Video games won’t revolutionize learning, but they can help teachers

In the first century B.C, roman philosopher Lucretius wrote De rerum natura, a text that conveys Epicurus’ teachings. But Lucretius made a bold choice, he wrote this heavily philosophical piece in an epic and poetic form.

Lucretius knew that he had to instruct and persuade his readers, but more importantly he had to give them the will to read through this difficult work. This is why he soaked his life-saving tenet into the “sweet honey of poetry” as would a doctor with a pill.


“This will revolutionize learning” or the misunderstood role of teachers

Motion pictures, radio, television, computers and nowadays smartphones, every decade had its technological breakthrough that was prophesied to revolutionize learning by delivering information to students more efficiently.

But a teacher’s role is not to pour knowledge from their heads into their students’ brain. The job of a teacher is to guide the social process of learning, to inspire, challenge and excite their students to want to learn.

Well, lucky for us, games inspire, challenge and excite their players to keep on playing. They are engaging and fun and it is no surprise that they are incredibly popular among teenagers. So, they seem to qualify as a potential “honey of poetry” around education.

But wait, aren’t games just entertainment? Is there even something else than honey? Education is serious and games are dumb right?


Education and entertainment

Well, if that was true how come that our educational system is actually a game? To cite Jesse Schell in his book Art of game design:

“Students (players) are given a series of assignments (goals) that must be handed in (accomplished) by certain due dates (time limits). They receive grades (scores) as feedback repeatedly as assignments (challenges) get harder and harder, until the end of the course when they are faced with a final exam (boss monster), which they can only pass (defeat) if they have mastered all the skills in the course (game). Students (players) who perform particularly well are listed on the honor roll (leader board).”

How come that students are not addicted to our educational system then? Well, it lacks key components that every game designer tries to produce in a game: surprise, pleasure, community and a good interest curve.

Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan said: “Anyone who thinks education and entertainment are different doesn’t know much about either”.


What are games and why are they useful?

Most people that are not familiar with games tend to think that games only harness our motor skills: pushing the correct sequence of inputs. But in fact, the majority of modern video games harness our cognitive skills: observation, time and space mapping, logic, experimentation, adaptability, memorization as well as teamwork skills in multiplayer games.

In his book, Jesse Schell proposes the following definition: A game is a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude. And “play” is manipulation that indulges curiosity.

This is so true that more and more developer recruiters use video games to test the participants problem-solving, communication and teamwork skills, as you can read in the two articles below.

  • ‘Factorio is the best interview we have’ by Eric McClure (link)
  • ‘Gamification in recruiting: How and why to give it a shot’ by Nikoletta Bika (link)


How can teachers harness the power of games?

You can use games in the classroom for different goals:

  • To make students realize that what they learn in school has practical applications;
  • To make them practice skills in a familiar medium that they like;
  • Acquaint them with learning subjects in a fun manner that breaks the ice;
  • To make them view the concepts they will tackle in class in a playful way.

First, identify the skills and subjects you want your students to practice. Then pick a game that bases its mechanics on these skills. Next, host a game session with your students. If you play in front of them, make it interactive: ask them for inputs, ask questions about what they think and feel. If they play, make sure they have a clear goal and provide help if needed. Finally, you can give them an assignment that builds up on the experience, whether it is a written essay on what happened during the session or on a game session they have to do at home.

In order to help you with this process, we are going to provide example pedagogical contents as well as a chatbot that will filter these contents based on the skills or subjects you want.


An example in English literature:

So, let’s say, you are an English teacher and you want to motivate your students to read more in English.

You go to our website and you filter sequences with “English as a foreign language” and “Literature”.

The search results delivers a pedagogical content called “Experience an interactive Shakespearian tragedy“.

In this pedagogical sequence, we show you how to use the game “Elsinore” in the classroom. It is an adventure game set in the universe of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which you play as Ophelia. The gameplay is fairly simple and revolves around talking to Hamlet’s characters and choosing what to say to whom. It is a court intrigue drama and most of your choices will end up with death and tragedy.

But there is a catch, you are trapped in a time loop: every time you die, you wake up back at the beginning of the game events. Your actions are erased but you keep your knowledge of the web of intrigues and goals that bind the characters together.

In the pedagogical sequence we acquaint you with the game mechanics, give advice on how to host the game and ideas of questions to ask your students. You can ask your students what to do next, ask them to enact the dialogues, ask them to analyze the characters encountered to plan the best way to beat the game etc.


Elsinore, Golden Glitch (2019)


An example in maths and programming:

Another example, let’s assume you are a Maths or Programming teacher and you want to acquaint your students with programming concepts in a warmer way than written algorithms on a board.

We have created several pedagogical sequences about programming, one of them uses the game 7 billion humans. It is both a programming game and a satire of modern office work where your code controls workers.

Programming happens by combining visual elements that represent instructions to produce an algorithm.

Students have a direct and fun feedback of their code as well as a continuous sense of progression as they move through levels that present different programming concepts.

7 Billion Human, Tomorrow Corporation (2018)



[Veritasium]. (2014, December 1). ‘The most persistent myth’ [Video File]. Retrieved from

McClure, E. (2021, March 12). ‘Factorio is the best interview we have’. Retrieved from

Bika, N. ‘Gamification in recruiting: How and why to give it a shot’. Retrieved from

Schell, J. (Ed.). (2008). The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses (1st ed.). Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers